WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, March 16, 2021) –– Perhaps no other industry was hit harder by the outbreak of the global coronavirus scourge than the travel and tourism sector. Amid the coronavirus pandemic it was thought it would take five years or even longer before the tourism industry recovers in the Washington metro area. When it comes to travel dreaming and planning a year after the onset of the pandemic, Washington D.C once again ranks among “the most desired domestic destinations” during 2021.
Although 1.36 million people were screened at airport security checkpoints March 12, the highest tally since March 15, 2020, many Americans continue to “exhibit competing and complicated emotions around safety and travel.”
For anyone planning to travel into Washington, D.C., the travel-related quarantine, as well as the testing requirements, are waived for persons fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Survey respondents were asked which destinations they would like to visit in the United States during the next three months.
Several iconic U.S. cities, including Washington, are back on the “Hot List of Domestic Destinations” Americans picked, said Destination Analysts.
Florida, New York, Las Vegas, California, Hawaii, Texas, and Orlando topped the list of dream domestic destinations for 2021. Of the top 15 most desired domestic destinations this year, Washington, D.C. ranked a respectable 15th, just below Arizona, New Orleans and Chicago as top picks.
It is good standing for the venue, as razor-wire and security fencing are being scaled back at the iconic Capitol Building in the aftermath of the January 6th riot. All told, 1,206 respondents completed the urban tourism survey and the data was collected March 5-6, 2021. Survey participants were asked to write in up to three domestic destinations in 2021.
Now more locations are no longer requiring “domestic travelers to quarantine upon arrival,” including New York. But before hitting the town, would-be travelers must know the travel status here.
“The nation’s capital is on the wish list of travelers, just as the District updated its travel–related guidance for fully vaccinated out-of-state travelers, and as 24 states ease restrictions,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Maryland has no travel restrictions in place for out-of-state travelers, as of March 12. Virginia and West Virginia have no travel restrictions. Among tourists seeking fun and sun, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Florida are the top dream designations, AAA Travel agents report.”
When asked the type of domestic destinations they would like to visit in the next three months, four out of ten respondents (38.8%) choose cities or metropolitan areas; and 36.1 percent picked small towns, villages, or rural destinations or attractions. Curiously, 32.9 percent of respondents wrote in beach destinations and resorts on their dream list. The data was gleaned from the Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus survey conducted by Destination Analysts during the week of March 8.
A year ago last week, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) “announced that the outbreak of a novel coronavirus first detected in China had developed into a global pandemic.” Although no one at the time knew the coming scale of the crisis, the pandemic impacted every dimension of life.
One year into the pandemic, the United States has witnessed 29.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and sustained 532,355 deaths. The virulent viral outbreak also devastated the economy and triggered layoffs, throwing millions out of their jobs and homes. By December 2020 “more than 36,000 District residents were still unemployed.” The local tourism industry suffered coronavirus-related closures and canceled events and trips.
Is it any wonder 2020 was defined by the “Great Travel Depression” and “pandemic-era practices?”
During fiscal 2020, “4th quarter hotel occupancy was 86.6% below the prior year” in the city, testified the District’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeffrey S. DeWitt, while presenting the District’s annual financial report. “Restaurants were operating at 25% of the prior year revenues” and “there were 43.35% fewer hospitality jobs (Sept. 2020 vs. Sept. 2019),” DeWitt reported on February 3, 2021.
At least “235 brick-and-mortar businesses have closed permanently in D.C. since the first known coronavirus case was reported on March 7, 2020,” reports DCist. Traffic dissipated. “Washington D.C., which saw the highest percent reduction in congestion, has a local economy fueled by politics and IT, which have largely transitioned to be remote,” headlines say. Where did all that traffic go? A year ago the metro area dipped from the fifth-most congested area in the USA to 12th place, touts the INRIX 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard.
In the recent travel survey, Washington, D.C. ranks 15th among the “Hot List of Domestic Destinations.” Fortuitously or not, the District Government issued “updated travel requirements, effective March 3, 2021, for anyone traveling into Washington, D.C.”
Some travel economists say it will take a lustrum, or a pentad, that is, half a decade, before the local hotel and travel industry rebounds. The District’s “lower wage economy” was severely impacted by the economic crisis.
The drop-off in tourism ensued last April, after quarantine orders were implemented in and around Washington. Until then, “Washington, DC enjoyed 10 years of record tourism growth before the pandemic started. In 2019, DC welcomed a record 24.6 million visitors, who spent $8.2 billion, generated $896 million in District tax revenue and were responsible for 78,266 jobs in DC,” as Destination DC (DDC) reported February 5, 2021. “The pandemic reversed this trajectory as it did for cities around the globe.”
“The pandemic has forced us to experience what happens when tourism falls precipitously. DC’s hospitality businesses are suffering, residents are unemployed and city tax revenue from visitor spending has dropped,” said Elliott Ferguson, DDC president and CEO. “When the pandemic subsides, and more people are traveling, there’s going to be a lot of competition to win consumers back.”
DDC and Events DC “recognize that a strong recovery campaign is crucial to make sure DC captures our fair share of visitors,” adds Ferguson.
In addition to a major drop in tourism and visitations, the city witnessed greatly diminished economic activity in downtown Washington, which boasted 167,000 office workers. During the onset of the pandemic, and amid stay-at-home-orders, the city saw fewer commuters and tourists, and 1,200 tour buses a day disappeared around the National Mall in the spring-summer peak season.
Before the pandemic, the District’s “daytime population increased by 79 percent during the day, swelling the population from around 600,000 residents to over 1 million people” each workday, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. The influx slumped in the initial stages of COVID-19 guidelines and stay-at-home orders. The District entered Phase 2 of reopening June 22, 2020.
The pandemic “erased more than half of the 15.8 million travel-related jobs in the U.S.,” warned the U.S. Travel Association.
“Americans appeared to respond to the nation’s vaccination vision with increased optimism and record-setting travel sentiment and expected trips 2021,” notes Destination Analysts’ update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus for the Week of March 15. “Still, the travel industry cannot lose sight that COVID-19 continues to be top-of-mind, with 43.1% of Spring Break travelers saying they remain ‘very concerned’ about contracting the virus on their trip.”
As America marks a year of the coronavirus pandemic, and more Americans sign-up and line up for their shots in the arm, travel dreams seem more realistic of late. The intrepid ones opting to travel ought to weigh current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and requirements, including travel restrictions imposed by state and local governments. If you are eligible, consider getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Even if you’ve been vaccinated, continue to follow all official travel protocols.
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